Wednesday, January 13, 2010

THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn is a 1968 fantasy novel by Peter S. Beagle. The eponymous unicorn sets out with several human companions to find the rest of her kind and to confront numerous obstacles, including the monstrous Red Bull.

Beagle writes beautifully and charmingly, almost poetically, and The Last Unicorn is worth reading for that reason alone. The novel is humorously anachronistic in places, and it’s sprinkled profusely with little literary delights: a turn of phrase here, a choice of word there. It’s delightful just to read Beagle’s sentences.

But the story itself is less than compelling, which can make the novel too easy to put down. While The Last Unicorn is filled with emotion and imagination and post-modernistic self-discovery, the events that transpire aren’t particularly remarkable. They’re the kinds of things that fantasy storytellers make up as they go along. It does seem that Beagle is more interested in raising what he obviously feels are important questions about existence and self than with engaging the reader on the basis of plot. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the kind of thing a lot people like to read, nor is it something that many readers often come to fantasy fiction for.

The Last Unicorn is not for everyone. People who think of it as Beagle himself does are likely to find it profound; others may find it shallow. But anyone who appreciates excellent writing will find it well worth his or her time.